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3 Things This Dermatologist Wants You To Know About Laser Hair Removal Before Starting

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May 24, 2022
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As in-office treatments become more mainstream and professional-grade tools have entered our very own bathrooms, the interest in high-tech devices has boomed. One area in particular has been on the rise: the laser hair removal market has been growing at a rate of just under 20% per year. The interest largely comes from at-home devices, improved professional technology, and (somewhat) lowering costs. 

But with any treatment, there are cautions. That's exactly what I chatted with board-certified dermatologist Tiffany Clay, M.D., about on a recent episode of Clean Beauty School. The episode itself was about hair removal broadly, but we spent a good deal of time on lasers in particular. 

While Clay is a fan of the procedure (she's gotten a few treatments herself and considers it "the gold standard"), she does note that it's not without imperfections. Here, three things she thinks every patient should know:

1.

While rare, adverse reactions are possible—especially with at-home tools.

As Clay notes, laser hair removal is very safe and well tolerated by many people. However, certain devices can cause issues for a small group of people. This is also why Clay recommends sticking to professional services if you are able. (Basically: Skip the at-home tools.) 

"So these devices are not delivering as much energy as a professional treatment would. And because they are emitting lower levels of energy, some of them can actually stimulate hair growth—so you may see a little bit more peach fuzz appearing in the area. That's the complete opposite of what we're trying to do," warns Clay. 

She goes on to further explain that "for some, the wavelengths may not be safe for a skin type. So I always say if you're using an at-home device, test a small hidden area first. Give it a few weeks, and then if you don't have any issues, then you can probably go ahead and treat a larger area."

But ultimately: A professional is your best bet. A dermatologist or licensed esthetician will be able to identify issues before they become a problem, tailor the service toward your needs (more on that below), and help you along the way. 

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2.

It won't work for everyone — and may not be permanent. 

People equate laser hair removal with permanent hair removal. This isn't always the case. To start, it may not work for all hair types. "It does not work if you have really light, white, or gray hairs," she says. "It does not work for these hair shades because the laser actually targets the pigment or the color that's in the hair in the removal process. That's how it works." Essentially, if your hair isn't dark enough for the laser to register the pigment, the laser won't have anything to target.

Additionally, even if you do have dark enough body hair—it may not be effective at removing hair for good. "I like to call it laser hair reduction because it may not be permanent for you. So many of us who've gotten it, we'll have to do a touch-up treatment here or there once or twice a year," she says.

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3.

Lasers need to be tailored to your skin tone. 

When finding a professional, be sure to find a practitioner who is able to treat a wide variety of skin tones. Because the lasers target pigment, you need to tailor which laser is used depending on how fair or deep your skin is. "There are different types of lasers that are safe for different types of skin," Clay says. "So if someone has darker skin, I would recommend that they do Long Pulsed Nd:YAG Laser, but for someone who has lighter skin, they have a few other options that might work for them." 

The takeaway.

If you're interested in removing your body hair, for whatever reason or in whatever area, there are many options are your disposal. From shaving and waxing to high-tech lasers found at MedSpas and derms' offices. Just know that the latter comes with cautions, like any treatment might. Now in the meantime, here are some tips on proper shaving techniques.

Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.